Do consumers deserve to know what’s in their food? The House of Representatives just voted to make that harder, when on Thursday they passed a bill banning states from passing their own laws requiring GMO labels.
The “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015,” which passed 275-150, will create a federal standard for the voluntary labeling of foods containing GMO ingredients.
Representative Mike Pompeo of Monsanto, who authored the bill, called mandatory labeling laws – which have already been passed in Vermont, Connecticut, and Maine – “unnecessarily costly given that GMos have been deemed safe by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).”
“Precisely zero pieces of credible evidence have been presented that foods produced with biotechnology pose any risk to our health and safety,” Pompeo said. “We should not raise prices on consumers based on the wishes of a handful of activists.”
Opponents are pushing back against the legislation, however, saying it will keep consumers from knowing what is in their food, and stop FDA from crafting a national GMO-labeling solution.
If you are not yet aware, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are seeds of certain crops engineered to resist herbicides. Common in America’s corn and soybean crops, most GMO yields are used to feed animals for slaughter or are turned into processed foods such as high-fructose corn syrup.
While government officials and the food industry claim GMOs are safe, consumer advocates seeking transparency on labels argue that no one really knows the long-term impacts of genetically modified crops.
Either way, don’t consumers deserve to know what’s in their food?
Consumer groups, backed by Democrats including Reps. Peter DeFazio (Ore.) and Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), are calling the bill the Denying Americans the Right to Know (or DARK) Act.
“American families deserve to know what they are eating and feeding to their children,” DeLauro told reporters Wednesday. “The FDA already requires clear labeling of over 3,000 ingredients, additives and food processes. GMOs should be no different.”
Supporters of the legislation claim a patchwork of labeling laws at the state level would drive up food costs.
Citing a study conducted by a Cornell University professor, the Grocery Manufacturers Association said state-level GMO labeling mandates would increase grocery prices for a family of four by as much as $500 per year. The study also states that mandatory state-level labeling would cost food and beverage manufacturers millions of dollars to change food labels and supply chain systems.
It’s been repeatedly shown that 90%+ of Americans desire GMO labeling; the reason biotech companies are pushing for suppression is because they know a minimum of 56% of consumers would refrain from purchasing and consuming GMO-containing foods, which would equate to a loss of profit.
Democrats represent many Americans, then, by maintaining that labeling would ensure transparency. “What’s the problem with letting consumers know what they are buying?” asked Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.).
MEANWHILE, Stefanie Spear reports for EcoWatch:
A number of farm state Democrats joined House Republicans in passing the bill. Twelve Republicans voted against the bill citing infringement of states’ rights and local control.
“It’s outrageous that some House lawmakers voted to ignore the wishes of nine out of 10 Americans,” said Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs for Environmental Working Group (EWG). “Today’s vote to deny Americans the right to know what’s in their food and how it’s grown was a foregone conclusion. This House was bought and paid for by corporate interests, so it’s no surprise that it passed a bill to block states and the FDA from giving consumers basic information about their food.”
More than 300 organizations, companies and food industry and social justice leaders oppose the DARK Act in the face of massive spending and lobbying by big chemical and food companies, according to EWG. Polls show a large majority of people in key states and across the country support mandatory GMO labeling.
“We’re confident the Senate will defeat the DARK Act,” added Faber. “We continue to hope that thoughtful food companies that listen to their customers will work with consumer groups to craft a non-judgmental GMO disclosure to put on the back of food packaging. Americans should have the same right as citizens of 64 other countries to know what’s in their food and how it’s grown.”
“We are disappointed but not surprised that the majority of House members have sided with large chemical and food companies to protect corporate interests over the 90 percent of American citizens who simply want the right to know more about their food,” said Gary Hirshberg, chairman of Stonyfield Farm and chairman of Just Label It.
“As a long-time food executive, I find it hard to believe that smart companies like PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, General Mills, Kellogg’s and Campbell’s are willing to risk their reputations to avoid putting a couple of additional words in their ingredient panels” said Hirshberg.
“Instead, they continue to fund efforts that are exactly the opposite of what their consumers clearly want. It is clear that the tide of consumer support favors more transparency. Americans will now know how their representatives voted and that their favorite brands are keeping them in the dark.”
“Passage of this bill is an attempt by Monsanto and its agribusiness cronies to crush the democratic decision-making of tens of millions of Americans. Corporate influence has won and the voice of the people has been ignored,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of Center for Food Safety. “We remain confident that the Senate will preserve the rights of Americans and stand up for local democracy.”
Center for Food Safety supports bipartisan legislation introduced by Sen. Boxer and Rep. DeFazio called the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act, which would require that food manufacturers label foods that contain genetically modified ingredients. This bill would guarantee Americans the right to know what is in their foods while respecting the need by companies for a uniform, federal standard.
According to Center for Food Safety, a number of messaging amendments were offered by champions of labeling and states’ rights intended to underscore the bill’s flaws, however all four failed to pass:
Leading opponent of the bill, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) offered an amendment that if passed would have required that any U.S. company who produces a product in the U.S. be bound by the same labeling requirement held in another country.
Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) offered an amendment that would have removed everything from the underlying bill with the exception of provisions establishing a non-GMO certification program at USDA.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) offered an amendment to specify that as FDA defines the term “natural,” that it does so to exclude GE foods and ingredients.
An amendment offered by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) would have ensured that the preemption provisions in the underlying bill do not abdicate the sovereign right of Native American tribes to prohibit or restrict the cultivation of GE crops on tribal lands.
An amendment to change the name to the Denying Americans the Right to Know or DARK Act was introduced by Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) after the final vote.